Blog

Coming Up at the Museum

Preparations are continuing for our forthcoming exhibition at Breaking Convention, the mother of all psychedelics conferences, in London this summer.

We’re really pleased to have the loan of a dream machine coming from Dreamstate and hope to have this installed and running as part of the show.  This machine will be just one of the devices for changing consciousness we will have on display. We’ll also have on show a range of pipes and vaporizing technologies, from ancient to the very latest.

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Cut-up process

Andy Romanoff, who was one of the original Hog Farmers, has generously donated some of his calling cards to the museum. These are from his incarnation as ‘Captain Gas’, the gas in question being a huge cylinder of nitrous oxide. Andy was first turned on to nitrous by Ken Kesey while sitting in the Hog Farm bus he lived on, parked in Joyce Mitchell’s driveway in Malibu. The rest, as they say, is history (to find out more check out the article by Andy and the reflections by his daughter).

The Psychedelic Museum now has four original calling cards. We plan to keep two for the museum and display these at our Breaking Convention show and to auction the other two, at Andy’s suggestion, to raise funds for the museum. Stay tuned to this blog and our Facebook page for details!

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It’s a gas, gas, gas (gas)!

Our patron Dennis McKenna will be at Breaking Convention and will also be in Britain earlier in the year as chair of the Ethnopharmacalogic Search for Psychedelic Drugs conference. Check out the website and Facebook pages for the conference. if you can’t get there in person, there is the option of participating via a live cast.

Meanwhile my new book Getting Higher: The Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony has already garnered media interest from The Guardian through to podcasts such the suitably named Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole. The book is officially released on May 1st and contains, among other things, a discussion of ‘museum level’ and an imagined journey to The Psychedelic Museum. I’m hoping that the publicity around the book will help point people towards the museum project and encourage them to get involved.

Finally, we’re really grateful to those wonderful people who have supported our next pop-up exhibition via our crowd funding page, all those folks who have offered help on the day,  and people who are providing objects for us to share at the Breaking Convention show. 

Hope to see you at Breaking Convention, and thanks again for all your support!

JV

Alice’s Adventures in Underground Culture

February 2nd – February 4th at The Horse Hospital, London.

Down the rabbit hole we went…and into the second exhibition by the Psychedelic Museum. Alice’s Adventures in Underground Culture brought together the fabulous art of John Coulthart, expertly printed onto blotter paper, and works from a number of other artists inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

This three-day exhibition opened with an evening event featuring a panel discussion on the links between 1960s psychedelic music and culture, and the persistent fascination of Carroll’s work. The limited size of the venue meant that only 90 tickets were available and these sold out weeks ahead of the show. This was a clear indication of the demand for events of this type. In Britain there are numerous scientific and social events related to psychedelics, but there is obviously a thirst for engaging, intellectual commentary and reflection on psychedelic arts and culture. We’ve taken note and will try to enable larger groups to attend in future as far as possible!

Alice’s Adventures… and the Psychedelic Museum also received some welcome publicity by being recommended by The List and Time Out (and the prestigious Psychedelic Press), as well getting positive mentions by many other listing sites.

The panel discussion, featured Andy Roberts, Jake Fior, Sophia Satchell-Baeza, and John Coulthart himself, ably facilitated by our own Nikki Wyrd. An hour of informed and erudite conversation held the attention of the audience, who asked some thoughtful questions in the half hour Q&A session. We talked of many things, including laudanum, migraines, feminism, pastoral idylls vs authoritarian society, bands (including The Beatles), mathematics, and cinematic representations of the Alice story.

Over 600 people visited the exhibition, which was very well received. Below are some pictures of the event for your enjoyment. If you attended and have images, video or audio you’d like to share please get in touch with us, via psychedelicmuseum@googlemail.com The opening panel discussion was recorded, and once our sound man has improved the quality, we will upload that too.

Many thanks to the team at The Horse Hospital, and to all those amazing people who gave freely of their time and enthusiasm, in order to make this exhibition happen.

Special thanks to the panel members:

  • John Coulthart – A World Fantasy Award-winning artist and designer, John’s first public illustration was for the Hawkwind album Church of Hawkwind in 1982. His illustration and design work has appeared on many book covers and album sleeves, while his comic art is collected in two books: The Haunter of the Dark, a volume of HP Lovecraft adaptations which features a collaboration with Alan Moore, and Lord Horror: Reverbstorm, a graphic novel created with writer David Britton. http://www.johncoulthart.com/pantechnicon/wonderland.html
  • Andy Roberts – Andy is an historian of British psychedelic counterculture and LSD. Musically, he has been severely influenced and affected by the Grateful Dead, the Incredible String Band and Dr Strangely Strange among a host of others. He first fell down the rabbit hole in 1972 and has been exploring the labyrinth of passages ever since. He has written, co-written or contributed to fifteen books on subjects as diverse as cryptozoology, UFOs, folklore survivals, government files on the anomalous, and psychedelic drugs.
  • Sophia Satchell-Baeza – Sophia is an AHRC PhD candidate in the film studies department at King’s College, London. Her thesis on British psychedelic films and light shows in the “long 1960s” analyses the ways in which psychedelia gets taken up and discussed across avant-garde and more mainstream contexts. She has written on film, psychedelia and visual culture for magazines and journals including Sight & Sound, Wonderland, Shindig! and i-D.
  • Jake Fior – Co-founder of the ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ shop. http://alicelooking.co.uk/pages/about-us

Next up…

Museum director Rob Dickins (of Psychedelic Press UK fame) has started the ball rolling for another exhibition in London. This is being tentatively timetabled for May. Stay tuned to this channel and our Facebook page for more information as details are confirmed!

JV

Artists on display in Alice’s Adventures in Underground Culture

John Coulthart

www.johncoulthart.com/pantechnicon/wonderland.html

Mark Bloomfield

www.electrobloom.com/about

Christiaan Nagel

http://christiaannagel.co.uk

‘Civilized Punk

Paolo Fiorentini

http://www.paolofiorentini.com

Alexander Korzer-Robinson

www.alexanderkorzerrobinson.co.uk/shadowboxshop/634156_other-alice-iv.html

Greg Lindsay-Smith

Dennis McKenna backs The Psychedelic Museum project

Happy New Year!

We’re pleased and proud to announce that Dennis McKenna has generously agreed to become a Patron of the Psychedelic Museum! As I’m sure you probably know Dennis is a respected ethnopharmacologist, author, lecturer and all-round great guy. He is Assistant Professor at the Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota.

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Dennis as Indiana Jones

Dennis writes:

‘The psychedelic museum is an important and timely venture, and one I’m very pleased to support. Giving people the chance to understand the depth of psychedelic history; from its ancient roots to its modern forms is essential both to help us celebrate the value of the psychedelic state and to find ways we can go beyond the story of prohibition. Encountering this history not only in writing but through cultural artifacts helps bring these stories to life. This is a grassroots project with many people contributing items for exhibition from Britain, Europe and the USA. The current program of pop-up events in London is just the beginning and I’d encourage others to get involved with this wonderful project.’

Meanwhile, the next exhibition by the Psychedelic Museum is in preparation: Alice’s Adventures in Underground Culture. This event on the 1st February marks the opening of a three-day exhibition at the Horse Hospital gallery, London (which runs 2nd-4th February, open noon til 6pm, free entry) featuring John Coulthart’s psychedelia-themed ‘Alice’ artwork, printed for the first time as (drug-free) blotter art.  John’s depictions of the twelve chapters of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ view the 1860s through the iridescent lens of the 1960s; Victoriana refracted through a psychedelic prism!

Following the launch of the museum at Halloween last year we have been approached by several collectors of psychedelic artefacts. This included two generous people in the West Country who just happened to have items that show how the Alice story has been incorporated into psychedelic culture. These curious objects will be on display at The Horse Hospital, but we know there is more out there, so if you have flyers from Wonderland themed club nights or anything else that could be shared at this exhibition, please get in touch.

We are also very pleased to announce that the lovely Sophia Satchell-Baeza will be a member of the panel. As an authority on 1960s psychedelic cinema, and the representation of Alice in Jonathan Miller’s TV film (1966), she will undoubtedly enrich the material under discussion
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Nikki Wyrd will now facilitate the Q & A session after the main discussion, as well as manning the Psychedelic Museum’s display table

We’re also beginning preparations for our exhibition at Breaking Convention 2017. BC is of course the Mother of all psychedelic conferences, 3 days, over 800 attendees, 4 tracks of speakers, as well as workshops, art, films and much more. For details stay tuned to the Breaking Convention Facebook page.

More exciting news about the museum project will be coming soon. In the meantime if you want to be more closely involved in this project please contact us, and if you are able please consider making a donation to the cause. Thank you! 😀

Best wishes

Julian

Welcome to The Psychedelic Museum – The First Exhibition

The Psychedelic Museum was officially launched on Halloween of this year, and just a couple of weeks later, on Friday the 18th November the museum presented its first public show. This historic event took place at the Psychedelic Press Journal’s cover art exhibition ‘Eyes of Albion’ at The Kennington Residency, London. These combined events attracted over 200 visitors on this one evening, despite the cold weather.

I had travelled from north Devon with some choice artefacts, while two of my co-directors, Andy Roberts and Rob Dickins had brought their contributions from north Wales and southeast London respectively (Rob bringing two iconic pieces from the collection of Dave King). The Psychedelic Museum holds a ‘distributed collection‘, where the things it can call upon to exhibit remain in the ownership and care of the donor. As well as allowing the collection to grow rapidly, this methodology echoes the collective grass-roots approaches often found amongst psychedelic communities of modern times.

Arranging the objects on the wall and plinths was a fairly simple task, although Andy’s periodicals, badges, objets d’art and books had to be placed on the table to look somewhat less car boot sale (he will admit himself that he is not versed in curatorial aesthetics). The real business of the day began when the people arrived and started to wonder about the things and their stories; thus, five hours filled with dozens of enthused conversations began. These often moved on to other, related topics, and showed how the simple fact of being in the physical presence of something can change us. At this, Andy proved an eloquent advocate, talking with animated delight about his badges and keepsakes.

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The container of capsules from the first LSD therapeutic study of recent years (shown above left) was marvelled at, especially by some researchers of Imperial College who had come to see the art. It sat beside a small sculpture dating from a few years later, a cause of much curiosity to the room! Izawa (2011) is a mixed media artwork. This collaborative piece was created by a group of magicians based in SheffieldIzawa is the physical representation of the ‘spirit of the psychedelic gnosis’ and has been imbued with magical power with the aim of ‘liberating the psychedelic gnosis’. (Gnosis in this context is a synonym for altered or extraordinary state of consciousness of the type attained through the use of psychedelic drugs.)

In another part of the exhibition many of our visitors realised the enormous significance of the Hoffman blotter art on display, signed by Dennis McKenna, Ann and Sasha Shulgin, Stanislav Grof, and James Fadiman.

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Acid free paper

One aspect of a museum which I had not anticipated was the way it collects not just objects of the past, but present day people who have common interests, into the same location. And, by providing conversation pieces, they have reasons to initiate discussions. Pilgrims of their own paths, following their own threads of interest, a museum provides a loom upon which new conversations and interactions are woven.

Physical objects act as fossils of encounters; psychedelic objects infinitely more so. They mark times of meetings between minds, environments, ideas and often substances. Genesis P. Orridge’s t-shirt (design by Val Denham) provoked nostalgia and bemused looks in equal measure, from those who had, or had not, heard of Psychic TV. Either way, pioneers of electronic noise music Throbbing Gristle, and the late 20th century resurgence in body modification were soon mentioned.

By linking together moments of equivalent mind states from across geography and time, feeling our empathic resonance with fellow human beings in sheer awe at simply existing, psychedelic culture offers a glimpse into a world of familiar scenery. We can vividly imagine, to some degree, the visions encountered by those people 4,000 years ago in northwest Argentina, in a cave 3,860m above sea level, with their DMT pipe made of a puma bone; the bright colours, the intense patterns and twisting mandalas. The artefacts created and appreciated by those who have undertaken psychedelic adventures shows the undeniable commonality of our raw biological heritage, at the roots of so much of our diverse artistic and mythological interpretations of these, our most potent perceptions.

But what of the legacy of these psychedelically inclined cultures? Where can we find it recorded as an explicit narrative?

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As the interest in psychedelics as medicines grows exponentially; hardly a week passes without the publication of some new research. How much of this research would have occurred without the growing interest in ayahuasca and peyote, of psilocybin mushroom species, amongst thousands of ordinary folk? …some of whom subsequently felt motivated to take up careers in science in order to research these molecules and their effects. The changes in our relationship with these substances will have great influence in how we construct our world: the intelligent use of psychedelic drugs promises (and evidence from research shows it delivers), opportunities for real world problem solving for engineers and scientists, highly effective methods for healing psychological damage, for easing our fears in the face of terminal illness, and much more.

We owe it to ourselves to tell the stories of those who have carried the torch of these drugs through the ages, through the gaol cells, through the furious anger of those righteous authority figures that declared the ‘War On (some) Drugs’.

Things – those material objects in an exhibition – provoke us to ask what, when, why, and who? Their value lies in the hands that have touched them, the eyes which were amazed in their presence. Like psychedelic substances themselves, while they can be represented (through photography or even 3D printing), there is a special value in the ‘medicine’ of the original, authentic and real. (You can, for example, watch as many trippy computer graphics as you like, but nothing compares to the authentic innerworld visions from a glass or two of ayahuasca!)

Re-imagining the world is a vital stage of any major cultural shift, and this is urgently needed now. Addressing the present through stories of the past, especially collective stories of how safe and intrinsic to the human animal is the desire to get high, can help inform our future. That these substances provide useful, healthy, enjoyable, life enhancing experiences for the vast majority of those who regularly use them is a fact; the work of the psychedelic museum, is to celebrate (though not of course without addressing difficult and contested ares of this subject) this psychedelic culture.

A museum of practices that have been criminalised and made secretive in the 20th century in most countries might provide those who enjoy such extraordinary states with validation. The traces of psychedelic culture are entwined throughout so many human activities, that only by grouping together categorically psychedelic artefacts can we show ourselves and others just how inseparable Homo sapiens and extraordinary states of consciousness have always been.

Choosing one’s state of consciousness, to be arational for a given period, gives us relief from the constant chore of concern. We return from a few hours of enhanced blissful contemplation or dancing to find our life has renewed colour; one of the most powerful predictors of life satisfaction is the knowledge that one has a mission in life. Psychedelic experiences can reveal to each of us,  via an apocalyptic uncovering of the self and its relationships with others, what that mission might be.

Looking at our surroundings through psychedelicised eyes we see them anew. And this is perhaps the greatest benefit; to see, physically, the world as fresh, as open to possibility.

A table, three plinths, and a couple of hooks in the wall at an art exhibition in London which had around 200 visitors marks the first manifestation of a larger project. One day there will be a building with hundreds, thousands of things; each one telling a tale, providing a portal into other realms. Imaginative journeying, initiated by these psychedelic objects, might just take us into a future which looks a bit like the archaic past.

NW

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A jolly trio of the Psychedelic Museum crew

With huge gratitude to all those who have already contributed loans of their artefacts, and donations of time and money, to this embryonic project.

Please add your support if you can to our crowdfunding appeal towards a much bigger exhibition at the psychedelic consciousness conference Breaking Convention in London 2017, and the development of this project. You can find us on Facebook too.

 

A visit to the Psychedelic Museum

An imagined journey to The Psychedelic Museum (taken from the forthcoming book by Julian Vayne ‘Getting Higher! The Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony’).

The entrance to the museum is plain white, this a good thing because it means I can begin to watch the gently dancing network of patterns pulsating across my vision. It’s a bright day and I’ve left my sunglasses on, bright light streams through the domed ceiling above me. The glasses also obscure the fact that my pupils are unnaturally dilated (especially in this brilliant chamber). I check my coat and bag into the cloakroom, pay for my ticket but decide I don’t want to use, at least for this visit, the variety of electronic methods for interpretation and ‘gamification’ that are on offer. I push my phone safely into my pocket and head for the doorway.

The entheogen I have taken makes the rippling carving around the doorway even more impressive than the last time I visited. This is the entrance to The Psychedelic Museum, which I’m entering at ‘museum level’, that is, while moderately high.

Of course this museum, like any ‘shrine of the muse’’ (which is what ‘museum’ literally means) is perfect for exploring while in an altered state. For, while some places aim for a fine-art gallery feel (with one of two star objects in glass cases), a panoply of interactive elements or ‘old school’ style plan chests full of mysterious and wonderful things – the psychedelic museum, attempting to reflect the psychedelic experience includes all three museological approaches.

But more than this, this museum blends those types of spaces together, blurring boundaries and styles. I enter the main hall through short dark tunnel, illuminated with famous quotes that appear, in glowing lettering, and then fade away, creating a web of words that tune in nicely with the visuals I’m starting to get. ‘If the doors of perception were to be cleansed…’ and ‘We’re not dropping out here, we’re infiltrating and taking over’. Which makes me laugh out loud. It’s okay, I’m not drawing attention to myself I think as a wide-eyed and prodigiously talkative group of tourists enter the tunnel.

There are some fascinating objects here and whenever I’ve visited I’ve seen something different. This is probably because one of the features of the museum is that they move the stuff around all the time. In fact just as I arrive into the hall (the museum is really one large building with various vaguely delineated zones created by moveable walls and other elements) I see a large white rabbit bobbing along. It’s being moved by three members of staff (easy to spot in their black clothes and t-shirts sporting the logo of the psychedelic museum; the classic ‘museum’ road sign symbol with a dayglo Greek letter ‘psi’ where the ‘M’ for museum usually sits). The crew gently stand the rabbit which, judging by the way they are moving it, I imagine must be made of ceramic, atop a small plinth. Two workers stand back to regard the display, calculating I assume some arcane museum aesthetics of position. The third adjusts an LED that throws a soft white light over the giant watch-peering bunny. On closer inspection I can discern (the dose I’ve taken, while I’m getting a few visuals, isn’t high enough that reading is challenging) a label. ‘This White Rabbit was gifted to The Psychedelic Museum by The Psychedelic Society, Birmingham 2020’. There’s an electronic tag on the plinth where I could access more information but I’ve got enough to think about here. The rest of the label is suitably gnomic reading; “You may be early, you may be late or you may be right on time”. Obviously, because I’m on drugs, I interpret the arrival of this totemic animal as a good omen.

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I can feel the medicine now, very clearly, I’ve come up and am likely to plateau now for about two hours. Plenty of time to explore this magical space. I’ve particularly come to see a couple of newly displayed items. But, as the weather is fine and it’s early in the day I ‘ll have time to come down gently in the delightful psychedelic garden attached to the museum, then to find my way to the centre of the building and ‘The High Tea Shop’, there to lounge on a chaise and listen to the wonderful range of psychedelic music they play (from The Incredible String Band through to early recordings of Siberian spirit songs) until closing time. Drinking chai with guarana and, if I’m in the mood, writing about my journey for this book.

Spreading through me there is an openness and wonder and I sense that I need to be gentle with myself. This is a recreational and nourishing visit, not one where I want to test my psyche in any way. With this in mind I decide not to step past the ‘hazard’ tape and into the gallery that holds some of the more difficult parts of the collection. There are challenging objects that can be seen here; documents and artefacts from the ear of military experimentation with LSD. There is a mock-up of a porton down acid research cell (featuring a video played on one wall of historian Andy Roberts, speaking at break-neck speed, about this dark side of the British acid story).

Even so everything else in the museum isn’t just sweetness and light. I find myself  at one point fascinated by a slideshow of photographs in a case devoted to the use of peyote (a substance in the same family as the one I’m on right now). Amongst the amazing bead work, feathered shamans hats and costume, a rolling series of photographs are projected onto a white Hucholi costume. These include images of animal sacrifice, an important part of the tradition in that part of Mexico, and (having gone through the inner dialogue about meat eating, animal cruelty and all that) I find myself fascinated by how I feel both empathy for the goats I can see slaughtered, and I feel understanding for the Hucholi people who are simply building the preparation of their food into their spiritual tradition. I find myself wondering at beauty of brilliant red splashed across pristine white cloth.

Museum visits are often like this for me, especially when I’m high. I feel like I’m seeing many of the interpretations of each object. Not getting fixed in any one story (which is perhaps a key effect of psychedelics).

There are notices of appreciation as I wander around, thanking numerous members of the international psychedelic community for their generous donations and loans; this is place is truly a collaborative work, and a true wonderland.

I find myself beside a case of objects donated by the estate of Richard Evans Schultes; Shipibo textiles and faded field notes about the presence of ‘telepathin’ in ayahuasca. I peer at each of the objects in turn. There are ancient stone cups made for holding the jungle brew. There’s even a tiny star shaped box (perhaps a donation from one of the Diame Churches?) on the outside of the glass case beneath which is written (looping back to my Alice in Wonderland moment at the entrance) ‘Smell Me!’. So I do. Yes, that’s it! The smell of ayahuasca! Ha! The smell of ayahuasca in the morning I chuckle; smells like victory!

On a nearby wall there is a large circle. This is screen for a film showing the preparation of ayahuasca. The movie has been shot from above and I’m looking straight down into a boiling cauldron of brown liquid as figures in t-shirts and a range of skin tones and hair styles, stir and chop and stoke the fire. Then the images change and now this is a Santo Daime ceremony. Initially this is also shot from above, but as I watch the camera pulls back and down and the figures are at their usual angle. For a moment the sound of an icaro (previously very distant, possibly generated by speakers under the floor) swells and I can hear it clearly. The rattles and drums in the cases beside me seem to vibrate as the sound builds. Then, after what feels like ages but was perhaps only a few moments, it softens, echoes, and fades into a gentle background hum.

I wander on, deeper into the collection. There is a dome shaped structure within which dance music is being played and examples of UV banners from Megatripolis and Burning Man are incandescent with black light. Beyond this there is a full scale replica of the laboratory of Alexander Shulgin (a delicate collection of the arcane flasks, retorts and test tubes in which Sasha used to cook his amazing psychedelic alchemy). There, in the case is his lab book, a signed and stained grimoire of chemical conjuration. I linger here for a while, entranced by an original Alex Gray painting of Alexander and Ann hanging, self referential and glowing, in the lab.

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Here I make my connection, between the sacrament I have taken and this story. Again I feel as though I sense all of it, all the narratives of MDMA and its sister medicines. I know, can sense, and am surrounded by objects that hold me in the network of narratives; of Goa Gil and psytrance, of the tragic death of Leah Betts, of the early explorations of MDMA in psychotherapy, the period of its banning and all that ‘Ecstasy destroys monkey brains’ narrative through ‘til now, when MDMA is again returning as a legitimate therapeutic agent and even, in some places, as a drug that is legally available to non-medical users.

I sit here for a moment, surrounded by this web of meaning and possibility and give thanks for the truth that in many places in the world we are finding better ways to be with the existence of this miraculous chemical.

I’m gently coming down but it’s still early in the afternoon. I make my way into the garden. There’s an exhibition outside of rare datura plants curated by Kew Gardens. It’s about the right time of year to admire those fantastical trumpeting flowers, and sit, and reflect on my trip thus far…

JV

Developing Our Collection

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The Psychedelic Museum proposes to develop a distributed collection. This means that objects loaned or donated to the museum live with their owners/custodians but are made available for public exhibition. In this way, while we anticipate developing a physical collections store in the future, The Psychedelic Museum is able to curate exhibitions without the need to directly manage all the objects in its care.

Museum funds will be used to ensure that our distributed collection is cared for (by paying for conservation work, regular condition checking and insurance costs). Money is also used to support a series of free pop-up exhibitions containing the objects from the distributed collection.

To see some of the objects currently held The Psychedelic Museum collection.

To if you’d like to find out more about donating to the collection please use our contact form and get in touch.